Making the Syracuse Music Scene

Bands, fans and promoters stay connected with the online Syracuse Music Scene bulletin board

In November 2010, drummer Kevin Dean had a rare Friday night off. “I thought, ‘What’s going on? I’m not playing!” he remembers. But when he went to see which of his favorite bands were playing, he couldn’t find a single comprehensive listing.

“I had to go to numerous sites and didn’t see them there,” he says. “Turns out three of my favorites were playing that night and I missed them.”

And so, the Syracuse Music Scene site was born. It’s a Facebook group page designed to provide an online bulletin board, forum and virtual meeting place so musicians and fans can keep up with their favorite bands, elicit advice and discuss issues that are important to the music scene.

Started by Dean and his wife, Leila, the site now supports more than 2,000 members. “The point is to do exactly what it’s doing,” Leila Dean says. “It’s uniting all the different genres in Syracuse and showing that there really is an incredibly active, amazing music scene here in Syracuse. People say that there’s nothing to do and I wanted to prove them wrong. There’s tons to do. Music is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The Deans recall when the local music scene was more connected. They reminisced about Showcase Thursdays at the Lost Horizon, where “you knew every Thursday there would be brand-new bands at the Lost,” Kevin Dean says. “Scott Sterling would run it and that’s how he determined who was worthy. He’d say, ‘You want to play tomorrow?’ You’d get nervous and if you sold him, he might say, ‘You want to open the show tomorrow?’ It was great.”

Dean also remembers Sterling’s three rules for new bands: “He’d say, ‘Don’t suck. Bring lots of people. And don’t suck.’”

There were also Sunday showcases at Styleen’s Rhythm Palace, what is now Benjamin’s on Franklin in Armory Square, where Scott Dixon would feature new local bands as well as major acts passing through. Rehearsal warehouses like the Love Shack and Albino’s also served as meeting grounds. Different bands would hear each other, share what each had going on and, occasionally, create side projects from those meetings.

“It was a real scene-connector,” Leila Dean says. “Mainly rock, but it was a place they could all go and hang out. There’s not really a lot of that.”

Although posting online is a much different medium than sharing physical space, “We’ve seen a lot of people meet on there,” Leila Dean says. “Someone will say, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a new guitar player,’ and usually we’ll suggest people we know who aren’t playing with a band who want a band.”

“That’s probably when we chime in most,” Kevin Dean says.

The Deans also broach topics that might not be discussed otherwise. Kevin Dean started a thread posing two very different questions: What are you worth? And what do you get paid?

“I opened a can of worms a little,” he says. “I think some people were a little nervous, like, ‘Should I jump in?’ C’mon, let’s be candid: Do you have to go outside Syracuse to make money? It’s not all about money, but I’m in my 40s and trying to stay alive here. It was an effort to level the playing field, so we’re not undercutting each other. People like Joe Altier {aka Just Joe} refused to answer {how much he was paid}, which is fine, but he gave great advice about the reality of a solo artist vs. a band. What’s in your best interest?”

The Deans stand firmly behind the idea of non-censorship. “I think it’s making people a little more passionate,” Leila Dean says. “I hope it’s creating a more positive scene where people feel comfortable putting their opinions out there of what’s going on.”

Kevin Dean notes the controversy surrounding Syracuse-born band Perfect Pussy, whose negative comments concerning their hometown in a recent article had many locals up in arms, notably singer Tom Carpenter from Born Again Savages.

“Tom Carpenter, I applaud him,” Dean says. “Whether I agree is irrelevant, but he’s really upset by the kids. They slammed the scene, a small portion of the scene, and opened a huge discussion. I hate that people involve hate in their posts, but he got a reaction and there were some positives out of it. A few weeks later a hardcore or punk kid got on there and called us all out, saying, ‘All right, you’re complaining about the scene not being supportive? How about you support the scene and come to this punk show?’ Put your money where your mouth is. That’s a positive.”

The Deans censor only when comments breach the line of personal or family attacks, violence or spam, like shoe ads (which they’ve seen many of). “People need to feel OK not being censored,” Leila Dean says. “If they’ll start personally slamming people or their families or saying violent or rude things. . .  or selling sneakers, they’re gonna get talked to.”

The page continues to grow, with anywhere from five to 15 members joining each day. Kevin Dean also noted that connections with musicians outside of Syracuse are increasing, creating opportunities for shared bills beyond the Salt City limits. “People always complain that bands skip Syracuse,” he says, “but now people in Rochester are asking questions on the page. There’s show-trading happening.”

The site is also home to music journalists, promoters, venue owners, sound engineers and studio owners, creating a common ground where they can meet and help each other. The Deans also plan to add a calendar of events and listings of bands, venues and promoters in the area.

They hope to take it to another level with a live music blowout in 2014. “We want to put a huge rock show together with the local scene,” Leila Dean says. “Not just a rock show, but a three-day, almost, festival that showcases all the genres.”

“{It will be} the launch of a physical entity of the Syracuse Music Scene instead of just a page,” Kevin Dean says.

“That’s where we want to see it go,” Leila Dean says. “It can happen.”

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